In the last lesson, we introduced the concept of core values. We also looked at why understanding your own core values is the first step in developing good intercultural competence — the ability to connect well and prevent or overcome misunderstandings with anyone from any culture.
One of the most fundamental value differences is whether we are oriented more towards the success and well-being of the group or towards the success and well-being of the individual. This difference is often referred to as “me vs we” or “individual vs communal” orientation.
A country that is at the far end of the individual “me” side of the scale is the United States. American culture celebrates and even pushes the success of the individual, almost at any cost.
A country that is at the far end of the communal “we” side of the scale is China. Chinese culture places great value on harmony and on working for the benefit of the group — family, community, team, employer, nation.
These are two profoundly different ways of perceiving the world and the part that each person — especially our individual selves — plays in it.
As you can imagine, and you might even have experienced, this profound difference can and does cause misunderstandings, even between people or groups (companies, nations) that want to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
The first step to overcoming this profound value difference is to understand your own core value:
– Is your own individual success and well-being more important to you?
– Or do you care much more strongly about the success and well-being of the groups that you belong to?
Individual vs Communal Orientation: Self-Test
Here’s a short “Me vs We” self-test you can do:
- You have a great idea for a new project, so you suggest it in the weekly team meeting. A few days later you learn that your manager has got approval for the project, but he did not give you credit for the idea. How do you feel?
- What the heck! That’s not fair!
- Well… I suppose we are a team…
- Excellent! Our team will gain recognition for this valuable project.
- You overhear your colleague at the desk next to you give some wrong information to a client on the telephone. What do you do?
- Interrupt her phone call to correct her error.
- After she finishes the phone call, tell her about the error.
- Stay silent, or find a way to communicate her error to her without saying it directly.
- A stranger asks you for directions while you are walking down the street. You know the place well and it’s only about 300 metres away. Do you:
- Say you don’t know, sorry, and keep walking.
- Explain verbally how to get there.
- Guide them to the place yourself.
a = 0 points, b = 1 point, c = 2 points
Now add up your points and see where you fall on the scale below. Obviously this is a very short test, but it will give you an idea of whether your core value is oriented more towards the individual or the community.
In the following lesson we’ll look at how this value difference affects how people respond to conflict, even very mild conflict.